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Qing clothing highlights connection with faith

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The parasol, golden fish, conch shell, lotus, vase, dharma wheel, victory banner and "eternal knots" are considered auspicious in Buddhism.

A jifugua (auspicious gown)-with such symbols on it-that belonged to a queen during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), is among 10 items of clothing that were on display at a recent exhibition at Tru-Space in Beijing.

"People would wear such a gown for festivals in Qing times, and all the symbols have meaning," says Fang Hongjun, a retired researcher at the embroidery department of the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, in the capital.

The lotus, for example, is a symbol of purity and enlightenment.

Matching the eight round patterns, the design at the bottom of the gown is called haishuijiangya, referring to the sea and rugged cliffs. Several small patterns, such as the ruyi (a traditional Chinese symbol of good fortune) and peonies, are on this pattern.

"Actually the one who wears the gown is deciding what pattern she wants on the piece-it could be a rhino horn, coral, gourd, silver ingot or some other thing," Fang says.

After having being designed by a queen or imperial concubine, the tailor who worked outside the palace would start to sew such a gown. Each piece could take a garment maker several months of needlework. The suture of the gown would be completed by the tailor at the palace right before the owner wears it.

"For different celebrations, the queens and imperial concubines would wear different such gowns," Fang says. "They would also wear a matching jifupao (auspicious robe) with the same pattern as the main gown."

"The gown had to be in blue, while the robe could be in any color."

A red robe from Emperor Guangxu's reign (1871-1908) was also on show at TruSpace, and its crane medallion pattern illustrates it was worn for birthday celebrations.

"The purple color on the red 'auspicious robe' was only used in late Qing Dynasty."

Fang explains experts now can identify the time of Qing clothing through patterns, colors and fabrics.

"From the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the Qing Dynasty, the style and color turned from calm and solemn to complicated. In late Qing, more saturated colors were used."

Cao Jian, a collector of some of the clothes for the exhibition, also the owner of Tru-Space, says the show was held to show the importance and beauty of ancient Chinese costume.

"Culture and daily life are closely tied, and we wanted people to have access to appreciate our heritage," Cao says.

Du Jiayi, curator of the exhibition, has the same vision as Cao.

Du, who is majoring in illustration visual media at University of the Arts London, picked eight clothes of the ruling Manchu and two from Han people at the time for the show.

"Usually people see clothes from the Qing Dynasty in museums, but I also wanted to show some clothes of that time from common people," says Du, 24.

"It's actually a fusion of Manchu and Han and you can recognize the mixture of the patterns in the clothes of both races."

Fang says: "Besides ethnic fusion, the clothing from the West introduced to China is the reason that the costume changed from loose to slim in the late Qing Dynasty."

The development of modern clothing in China has followed a cycle.

"After being popular for a few years, the trend comes back even if not directly," he adds.

The show was held from Sept 20 to Nov 10.

China Daily


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